Tag Archives: animal stories

First Test

Author: Tamora Pierce

Protector of the Small Quartet, vol. 1

My rating: 5 of 5

A decade after the kingdom of Tortall decided to accept girls to train as knights instead of just boys, ten-year-old Kel becomes the first girl to actually apply. Inspired by tales of the Lioness’s valor and already skilled through her training in the Yamani court, Kel is determined to succeed and become a knight of Tortall. But she is shocked when Lord Wyldon, the training master, puts an extra requirement on her that the boys don’t have to fulfill: her first year is a probationary period, and only if she satisfies him at the end of it will she be allowed to stay on as a knight-in-training. Hurt and frustration are barely the beginning of what Kel feels, but her time with the Yamanis has also trained her to hide her emotions and press on through unrealistic expectations, deep-seated prejudice, bullying, and social rejection until she proves herself.

First Test is such a great reminder of just why I love Tamora Pierce’s books so much. It’s this fabulous mix of fantasy and slice-of-life, encompassing bits of school story (the majority of the tale), culture and history, exciting battles, amusing relationships with various animals, and growing friendships among many other things. Plus it’s an excellent look into changing perspectives on what women are capable of and that whole dynamic. Kel is a powerhouse, incredible character–the perfect individual for this particular story. Her story is so similar to and yet so different from Alanna’s in the Song of the Lioness Quartet that it’s quite interesting to compare the two. And knowing that Kel has Alanna’s secret backing is fabulous. But seriously, I love Kel’s stubbornness and determination, the way she works so hard to get where she wants to be. And the way that she’s quiet and feminine–which is partly stubbornness in the face of opposition itself–but is also ready to get into fistfights when necessary also contributes to a richness of character. Plus her friendships with all the various animals and her  intentionality in standing up for those who are weaker and afraid. She’s just a very well-realized and fascinating character, and I love that about her. I also really love her opinionated and chatty mentor Neal as well–also a richly developed and complex character who is quite likeable. It’s been entirely too long since I’ve read these books, and I’m greatly anticipating re-reading the rest of this quartet. I would highly recommend both First Test and the rest of the quartet to . . . well, basically anybody who likes a solid fantasy. As far as appropriate age recommendations, this quartet (like the Song of the Lioness books) is difficult to place, but I would say that First Test at least is appropriate for middle-grade and up (possibly even older elementary). Just be warned that the later books in the quartet grow up as Kel grows up, so there may be some more mature content there.



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Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them (2016 Movie)

Heyday Films

My rating: 4 of 5

1926, New York City. Something magical is wrecking havoc, and the magical community is desperately trying to keep the whole thing under wraps and the muggles out of it all . . . which would be easier if there weren’t obsessive, outspoken muggles crying witchcraft from the street corners. Enter into the mix a bumbling young idealist from England carrying a suitcase (bigger on the inside, naturally) full of magical creatures just dying to get out and roam the city. Obviously, trouble is going to ensue, especially when said wizard manages to get himself and his (possibly illegal) creatures seen not just by a muggle but by a straitlaced ex-Auror as well.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them was a fun jaunt in the world Rowling’s creation. It’s clearly Rowling’s work, but on the other hand, it’s most definitely not Harry Potter, by any means. And it was odd to me that there was this big plot involving the entire local magical community and tying the story into the whole Harry Potter storyline . . . but that part of the story felt almost artificial or forced to me. Like it was there to tie everything together and to make Newt’s story bigger and more exciting, only I wasn’t really interested in that part of the story. But there were other parts of this movie that definitely made up for my not loving the big plot part. For one, the setting was really interesting–1920’s New York, with the added bonus of getting a peek into American wizardry, what’s not to love?! And all of the creatures . . . there’s a sense in which parts of the story almost feel like just a catalogue of magical creatures, but they’re so interesting/cute/wonderful that it’s totally okay. Even better (absolutely without a doubt my favorite part) are the main four characters and their interactions. Newt Scamander himself is the best. He’s a hearty helping of Eleven, a touch of Merlin (especially the sass and attitude), a bit shy and awkward, but thoroughly idealistic and devoted to his creatures and his mission to protect them and educate people about them. I don’t know; I just really enjoyed his personality and the unusual friendship he develops with the others. Jacob, Tina, and Queenie are also rich, well-developed characters who were cast brilliantly. I really loved that they weren’t your typical likeable protagonist types, none of the four were; they’re awkward or bristly or just unusual, and I loved them for it and for the friendships they formed. I would really love to see more of these characters. I think their small (but significant) personal story was what made this movie, and it is certainly what would make me recommend Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them to anyone looking for a quirky, magical tale.

Written by J. K. Rowling/Directed by David Yates/Produced by David Heyman, J. K. Rowling, Steve Kloves, & Lionel Wigram/Music by James Newton Howard/Starring Eddie Redmayne, Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Alison Sudol, Ezra Miller, Colin Farrell, Samantha Morton, Jon Voight, & Carmen Ejogo

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The Rainbow Fish

Author/Illustrator: Marcus Pfisterthe-rainbow-fish

Translator: J. Alison James

My rating: 4.5 of 5

The Rainbow Fish is very beautiful, and he knows it too. But he’s not about to share any of his beautiful scales. And he wonders why he has no friends?! When the Rainbow Fish takes some wise advise and learns to be generous with his beauty, he finds that the other fish’s attitude toward him changes as well.

The Rainbow Fish is an established classic  children’s picture book, although I have to admit that I didn’t read it until I was an adult. I’ve had numerous people tell me it was a favorite when they were growing up, however, and my little niece adores this book. Understandably so. The text is simple enough for young children to understand, yet it has a nice flow. And the message of the story is something everyone needs to be reminded of–although I think a discussion of not being friends with someone just to get stuff from them may be necessary in some cases. What seems to stand out in most people’s memory–and in most children’s reactions–however, is the lovely art. It really is attractive, and I love the cool-tone palette. And of course, the holographic foil is eye-catching. I would recommend The Rainbow Fish to anyone looking for an all-around good book for children ages 18 months to around 4-years-old.



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Shh! We Have a Plan

Author: Chris Haughtonshh-we-have-a-plan

My rating: 5 of 5

Four friends wander through the forest until they spot a brightly colored bird. One of them tries to make friends with the bird, but the others shush him. They have a plan. They’re going to catch this bird by force. Well . . . let’s just say that not all plans are created equal. But then, some people never learn. So, on to the next plan it is. Shh!

Shh! We Have a Plan is a fantastic little picture book by the creator of the beloved Little Owl Lost. The art features Haughton’s unique, bold, chunky style, utilizing a combination of monochromatic blues against some truly brilliant colors for the birds to draw the reader’s attention quite effectively. The tone that’s created is quite striking. Moreover, the messages of the story are valuable–such as the worth of offering true friendship and looking to the needs and desires of others instead of trying to force your own desires on them. The writing is maybe just a bit older in intended audience than Little Owl Lost; my niece appreciated Little Owl from about 1 year on, but didn’t really get into Shh! We Have a Plan until she was closer to 2 years old. At that point, however, she totally loved the repetitive but changing cycles of bird-catching . . . or not catching, rather . . . and joins in on every “Shh!” and “Go!” in the story. So I would say that for ages 2 and up, this is a highly recommended picture book.


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Robot Dreams

Author/Illustrator: Sara Varonrobot dreams

My rating: 3.5 of 5

Dog brings home a build-your-own-robot kit and finds his new best friend–Robot. The two do everything together: library trips, movies, the beach. Well, the beach was a bit of a mistake. Or rather, the water was a mistake for Robot. He rusts up so he can’t move! Dog doesn’t know what to do, so after trying everything, he quietly slinks away, feeling guilty for leaving his friend. Gradually, Dog tries to move past the guilt and loneliness by making new friends . . . with mixed results. Meanwhile, Robot lies abandoned on the shore, daydreaming about all sorts of might-have-been’s and could-be’s. But maybe there’s hope for both of them yet.

I really enjoyed this cute graphic novel, Robot Dreams. The art is simple but bold, not especially beautiful, but oddly attractive and expressive nonetheless. It works well for the story. And the story is unexpected, to be sure. At first, it’s all happy and sweet–the kind of story you give an upbeat soundtrack with birds singing in the background. Then everything gets all sad and poignant–somehow heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time. I love that the story resolution is at the same time unexpected (not at all the stereotypical happy ending I had figured would come) and cathartic; there’s a great message of healing and forgiveness there that I think is great for readers of all ages. And that’s something else that is great about this graphic novel–it really is appropriate and enjoyable for everyone from pretty young kids to adults.


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Little Owl’s Day

little owl's dayAuthor/Illustrator: Divya Srinivasan

My rating: 4.5 of 5

Little Owl loves flying around the forest during the night and sleeping during the day, but today’s a bit different. Somehow, Little Owl just can’t sleep even though the sun’s come up. Everything seems so different and exciting! There are all sorts of animals and things to see that Little Owl didn’t even know existed. Suddenly, the forest is like a new wonderful world to explore.

I loved Srinivasan’s first Little Owl picture book, Little Owl’s Night, and Little Owl’s Day is the perfect follow up. You get to see the daytime version of Little Owl’s forest, full of all sorts of diurnal creatures and other sights that can only be enjoyed in the sunshine, like rainbows and sun-loving flowers. There are fun tie-ins to the first book as well–like Little Owl’s finally getting to show Bear the moon. The art is superb–a really interesting style. I love that this book keeps the same general style and color themes while at the same time pulling in a much brighter palette to emphasize the difference between the day and night. The writing style is great for a preschool audience (my 1-1/2-year-old niece loves these books), while having a nice flow that’s enjoyable to read aloud–no annoying “see Spot run” sort of stuff. Definitely a recommended read for those with younger children.

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Little Owl Lost

little owl lostAuthor/Illustrator: Chris Haughton

My rating: 4 of 5

Poor Little Owl! He’s fallen out of his nest, and now he can’t find his Mommy anywhere. Fortunately, Squirrel’s around to help him look. But every time Little Owl describes his Mommy to Squirrel, Squirrel leads him to a different animal . . . that isn’t his Mommy. How sad! Finally, they meet Frog who knows just where Little Owl’s Mommy is, and the two are soon happily reunited.

Little Owl Lost is an adorable picture book for a younger preschool audience. It has that great blend of repetition and variety that seems to work so well with that age group. Plus it introduces a number of forest animals. And of course, there’s the great reassurance that when you’re lost your mother is looking just as hard for you as you are for her, cemented by the satisfying reunion in this story. I love the way this particular story loops back around at the end to Little Owl falling asleep and tipping, about to fall out of the nest again. As well as being a really cute story, Little Owl Lost has some very interesting art. The style is quite unique, but it works well and is fun to see. Likewise, the super-unusual color scheme is rather jolting at first, but it works. This is definitely a recommended read for younger children–a great read-aloud story.

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